As a teenager sitting at her family’s dining room table in the Wildwood area southwest of Chehalis, Fern Crocker often tapped out a tune on the wood with her fingers.
“My mother told my dad, ‘I think that girl needs a piano,’ so he goes to the sale and he comes home with one,” recalled Fern Mohoric, who will turn 100 Thursday and celebrate Saturday from 1 to 2 p.m. at Woodland Village.
The piano proved a good investment as Fern and her family have entertained for decades of dances at the Baw Faw Grange, Playquato ballroom and Twin Cities Senior Center.
She was born at the family home Feb. 12, 1919, the only girl among seven children, with three older brothers — Sharron, Clyde, and an infant who died — and three younger, Earl, Jack and Ben. One of her brothers died as an infant. Her father was Benjamin F. Crocker, a Nebraska native whose family settled in Winlock. In 1913, he married Ethel Whiteman, who was born in Illinois, and they moved to the Wildwood farm near Boistfort, which remains in the family four generations later.
Growing up, Fern was involved in the Boistfort 4-H Club and served as secretary in 1931. At Boistfort School, she met Joe Mohoric of Crego Hill and the two became high school sweethearts. On dates, she said, “We did a little lovin’.”
On June 18, 1938, a Saturday afternoon only weeks after graduating from Boistfort High School, Fern married Joe at her family’s home. He had graduated in 1936 and worked falling logs near his parents’ property. Roses, delphiniums and maidenhair fern (for which she was named) decorated the living room in vases and baskets, according to a Chehalis Bee-Nugget write-up. Rev. A. Ted Goodwin officiated. Fern wore a store-bought white tulle gown and veil and carried a bouquet of pink rosebuds. Maid of honor was Agness Moore of Fords Prairie and best man was Henry Mohoric, one of the groom’s eight brothers. (He also had two sisters.) Joe’s parents were John and Mary Mohoric, who were born in Czechoslovakia and Austria, respectively, according to 1930 census records.
After a short honeymoon, Fern and Joe moved into an isolated old log cabin up Crego Hill from his parents’ place. It had no electricity, no running water and an outhouse near an apple tree.
“We had a big tub of water and a great big double boiler on the stove if you wanted to take a bath,” Fern recalled. But, she added, “Oh, it was fun. We finally got married!”
Before long, Joe landed a job with the Dupont chemical company in Tacoma, where they lived for nearly a decade and where Fern gave birth to her sons — Gary in December 1941 and Glen in February 1945. But Glen was born with hydrocephalus, also known as water on the brain.
“I thought maybe I injured him at birth,” Fern said. “He had a pretty hard birth. And when I took him to the doctor for a checkup, she said, ‘There’s been too many of these lately.’ So I thought, ‘Well, I guess that wasn’t Fern’s fault’ so at least that made me feel better.”
Fern’s father died in May 1947, and a year later, Fern and Joe moved back to her family’s farm, which they bought from her mother, who then worked as a housekeeper in Centralia. Although her eldest brother owned a small farm, she said, her other brothers weren’t farmers.
“Anyway, it was sure nice when we got electric lights,” Fern recalled. “We didn’t have them when we first moved down there. Got them around 1950.”
As a child, Gary learned to play the piano but preferred the bass guitar. One day after he played, Glen tottered over to the piano, pulled himself up, and picked out the exact same tune.
“I could never get over that,” Fern said.
After Glen grew too difficult to control, they drove him to a home in Buckley.
“You know he couldn’t talk, but he could hear and understand, I think, because on our way up there, he vomited in the car.”
Glen’s health declined. He lost his vision. In August 1957, he died at age 12.
Gary graduated from Boistfort High School in 1960 and began farming with his father three years later. In July 1963, he married Karen Balsley, a girl from Adna. She first visited the Mohoric farm for Gary’s birthday party in eighth grade, never imagining she’d live there for decades. Kids from Boistfort, Adna and nearby communities became acquainted at Friday night sock hops, Karen Mohoric said.
On the family’s dairy farm, Fern cooked meals, cleaned house and milked cows before they bought a milking machine. She played piano at the Boistfort Alumni party at the Baw Faw Grange in early 1952, and often performed music at Grange dances in the 1960s as The Crocker Family, with brothers Clyde and Jack and son Gary.
“My mother’s side were musicians,” she said. “My mother played a little old screen-box accordion.”
In July 1967, the Mohorics were named Lewis County Dairy Family of the Year. At that time, the family operated a 170-acre grade A dairy farm, including 75 acres of cleared land in crops and 40 acres under irrigation. They had 45 cows and 45 heifers and calves. They had built a milking parlor and milk house; remodeled a barn into feed and stall housing; and constructed a 16- by 40-foot silo and a 25,000-gallon liquid manure system. They raised most of their livestock feed and grew award-winning hay. In fact, Gary was dubbed Hay King at the 1975 Southwest Washington Fair.
The Mohorics remained involved in the Chehalis Eagles and Eagles Auxiliary, Boistfort Lions Club and Baw Faw Grange. In the 1960s and 1970s, Joe held positions on the county weed board, Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation committee, and state Farm Home Administration.
Gary, who served in the volunteer fire department, purchased the farm from his parents in 1984, and he and Karen, along with their children Kim and Joel, were named Dairy Family of the Year in 1985. But only 14 years later, Gary died at age 57. He had been diagnosed with a non-cancerous tumor on the pituitary gland in the late 1960s and underwent cobalt radiation therapy in Seattle but later suffered ill effects from it.
“My music has kept me going,” said Fern, who had moved with her husband into Stillwater Estates in Centralia. “I don’t know why there had to be so much trouble for poor Gary.”
Joe and Fern lived at Stillwater Estates in Centralia. They had been married 74 years when Joe died Sept. 22, 2012, at the age of 94.
Asked about the key to a long marriage, Fern replied, “I don’t know — lots of lovin’, I guess.” But she had told her granddaughter marriage required a lot of understanding, give-and-take and forgiveness.
Teenagers today never think about where cows come from or how things grow.
“They don’t realize that people go through the work to do all this to get things done for the market so then they have it,” she said.
Last year Fern moved to Woodland Village in Chehalis. She recently stayed at Sharon Care after gallbladder surgery.
For more than 30 years, she played piano at the senior center every Thursday. She has outlived her brothers, including Jack, a World War II Navy veteran who played saxophone with his sister in Jack and the Roadrunners. He died a year ago at the age of 92.
Fern’s grandson, Joel Mohoric, lives in the old farmhouse, and Karen built a home across the road. They farm the place together.
In addition to her two grandchildren, Fern has four great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
What does Fern think about turning 100?
“I guess I think, gad, that’s a long time.”
Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at email@example.com.